PITTSBURGH – New Red Sox first baseman Eric Hosmer was aware of new teammate Rafael Devers’s reputation as a below-average defensive third baseman before joining the Sox. His view after two weeks?
“Very underrated defensively. Extremely solid,” said Hosmer. “He’s made some great plays already. His hitting speaks for itself. He’s an all-around great player.”
Such suggestions have been a long time in the making. Devers got rushed to the big leagues in 2017 because of his difference-making offensive potential, with the understanding that his defense was not as advanced as his bat.
“He always wanted to be the best. It was just a matter of time, maturity, and getting more experience than when he first came in,” said Sox third base and infield coach Carlos Febles. “He was not ready defensively to play baseball in the big leagues. We knew that. There were a lot of things he was doing in the big leagues that he was supposed to be doing in the minor leagues.
“But he was so talented that we took a chance. He went through a lot. [But now] he’s growing in front of our eyes.”
One key play in Sunday’s win against the Yankees stood out as a sign of Devers’s defensive growth. In the fifth inning, Devers made a two-on, two-out diving grab of a hard grounder down the third-base line, jumped to his feet, and made a perfect throw to Hosmer that turned a potential two-run double into a third out.
It was notable for a player who’d struggled on balls to his right in his early career. Devers’s strength had always been his range to his glove-side, while plays to his backhand and misfired throws accounted for most of his errors.
Statcast pegged Devers as eight outs below average on plays to his backhand side in 2021, and 13 outs below average overall last year. This year, he grades as three outs above-average to his right side, and one out above-average overall at third.
“He put in a lot of work in the offseason,” said manager Alex Cora, who credited an improved first step for Devers’s step forward. “He’s getting to [balls to his right] and then after that, he can take his time because his arm is probably playing better than ever.”
For Devers, recognition as a multi-dimensional player has been gratifying.
“It feels really good to contribute on all sides of the ball. That’s some of the things that I really worked hard on in the offseason, to be able to help the team [in all aspects],” Devers said through translator Carlos Villoria Benítez. “That’s why we keep working every day, every day, day-in and day-out, so you can improve and be better at your position. That’s what I’m trying to do every day.”
Pirates irked by Eck
NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley spoke harshly about the Pirates during the broadcast on Tuesday.
“This is a hodgepodge of nothingness,” he said of their lineup. “It’s ridiculous, it really is. Pathetic.”
That didn’t go over well with the Pirates, who were 45-71 through Tuesday.
“I think it was kind of crappy and bush league,” reliever Wil Crowe told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think a lot of guys are gonna take it and let it fuel us and see what happens.”
Manager Derek Shelton was more measured.
“He’s a broadcaster who works for another network,” he said. “My concern is in our clubhouse and what our process is, and we’ll continue to concern ourselves with our group.”
Milestone for Paxton; Strahm on the mend, too
On Thursday, James Paxton will pitch in an official game for the first time in 499 days. The lefthander is slated to start a rehab assignment with a start for the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox, his first game since he tore his ulnar collateral ligament on April 6, 2021, an injury that required Tommy John surgery.
Paxton, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal that includes a two-year, $26 million team option in the offseason, is slated to go three innings.
Cora said there’s “a good chance” lefthander Matt Strahm – who topped out at 95 miles per hour in his rehab outing with Triple-A Worcester on Tuesday – will join the Sox in Pittsburgh on Thursday. The team is still deciding whether to activate him for the series finale against the Pirates or if it will wait until the Orioles series this weekend to bring him back.
Either way, after missing five weeks with a left wrist contusion, Strahm’s return is significant. He was at times dominant early this year, and despite some struggles in July, he has a 3.58 ERA and 27.1 percent strikeout rate in 27 ⅔ innings.
“He’s very important for us,” said Cora.
Hernández back in center
Kiké Hernández – who returned from a two-month injured list stint on Tuesday – was in the lineup for a second straight day, this time back in centerfield after spelling Xander Bogaerts for a day at shortstop on Tuesday. “I was hoping I’d be put back at shortstop [Wednesday] and Bogey would be in center, but that’s not how it worked out,” said Hernández. … Hernández is expected to get a day off on Thursday as the Sox try to control his workload. The team may also give Devers a day at DH and sit J.D. Martinez. In an ideal scenario, the Sox could use the DH spot to keep regulars such as Bogaerts and Devers an element of rest, but with Martinez having yet to play in the field this year, that’s not an option. “It’s something that has been a challenge in a sense, but we need the big guy in the lineup,” said Cora. “I know he’s not swinging the bat the way he’s capable of, but still, like Mike Lowell used to say, you’re one swing away from finding it.” … Trevor Story hit in the batting cage and is getting closer to both hitting on the field and taking swings against a high-velocity pitching machine.
Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.